Junior High Band
Teaching Tips

Identify Tonal Concept

My junior high band director told us the hypothetical story of band instruments being left on an island where the natives had never seen or heard them before. In six months the natives were making characteristic sounds on all of the instruments except the clarinets, which sounded like noise makers. His point was all the instruments have a pitch range for each note and the characteristic tone for all but the clarinet is at the mid-point of that range. The clarinet needs to be played almost as high as possible to get the characteristic tone.

I agree that the clarinet needs to be played on the high side of its pitch range, but I’m not sure I agree with the rest of the story. At a state solo festival I judged a flutist who was from a school in rural Utah. She had great technique but no vibrato. She hadn’t heard what a flute is supposed to sound like.

Perhaps my memory of the story is faulty and the natives were making sounds that were just closer to characteristic on all the instruments but clarinet. The important point to remember is that hearing the instruments played correctly is the only way to develop a characteristic tone quality.

Ideally, the band director would be proficient on all the instruments and be able to model the tone of each. Realistically, he will need to rely on recordings, live performances by professionals, and quality private teachers. He should at least be able to recognize the characteristic tone of each instrument and give the students guidance, even if he can’t produce the sound himself.

For more information, see the Tone* slide show from the Slide Shows section.

*Microsoft PowerPoint required.
To download, right click on the link and select "Save target as" (Internet Explorer) or "Save link as" (Firefox / Chrome).

Video Disclaimer

The attached videos are not perfect examples of how each tune should be played. They are recordings of junior high students, some of whom have had their instruments for only a few months. Also, they are not professional recordings. They were taken by band parents using home equipment and naturally focusing on their own children.

I include them for two reasons: (1) To give you an idea of what the arrangements are like, and (2) To illustrate the kind of performance you can expect from your junior high students.